Should We Be Talking About Stem Cells as a Migraine Treatment?

Reports are beginning to emerge of patients who are seeing a major decrease in migraine symptoms from stem cell treatment.  Might this be another new frontier in migraine treatment?  And might it help with other headache disorders?

Stem cells for Migraine and Headache
Photo courtesy of Jacopo Werther

Stem cells are remarkable partly because they can become many different types of cell.  Stem cell treatment is the result of over a hundred years of research, which has become much more intense over the past thirty years.

A lot of the controversy over stem cells has come from the field of embryonic stem cell research – stem cells that come from aborted “test tube babies”.  However, the controversy has calmed down a little because there are many different stem cells that can come from other sources, and that’s where most of the medical breakthroughs are coming from.

Researchers have found that stem cells can repair the body in remarkable ways.  They can also help repair problems with immunity.  Stem cells can be introduced into a new area without a fight from the body – and yet without impairing immune responses.

And so stem cells are being researched and used for many conditions, including arthritis, colitis, and lupus.

And what about migraine?  The New York Headache Blog reports that cases are showing up where migraine is being treated with stem cells, often unintentionally (see Stem cells for headaches).  For example, a study in Australia treated women for osteoarthritis using stromal vascular fraction, a type of tissue taken from the patient’s own fat which contains stem cells.  The women found that both migraine symptoms and tension-type headaches decreased after the treatment.

Another case study found that four women with chronic headache conditions saw significant improvement with similar treatment.

What about other headache conditions?  Another study out this year showed the promise of stem cell treatment for patients with neuropathic trigeminal pain, once again using a similar type of treatment.  Another study last year looked into stem cell research for traumatic brain injury.

How exactly stem cell treatment may fight these conditions is a complex question that will take time to answer.  We do know that stem cells can repair damage to the body, help with immune responses and fight inflammation.  This type of treatment could go a long way in helping patients with chronic headache conditions of various kinds.

Because stem cell treatment is already common for many conditions, the field is wide open for serious research into how migraine patients and patients with various headache disorders could benefit.  This may be another way to actually heal the body instead of just coping with other ongoing treatments.

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